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Eureka College used the CIC/Walmart College Success Award to ensure that first-generation students become engaged and connected members of its liberal arts college community. The First-Generation “Early College Program in the Humanities and Arts,” a three-day summer bridge program, was the first in a year-long series of events designed to help students explore all aspects of the college while providing them with intentional opportunities and the support needed to succeed. In workshops, small group discussions, and over meals, students interacted with faculty members in the humanities and the arts and discussed questions about the human condition, spirituality, and creative and expressive responses to the world. Through these interactions, students were able to explore the humanities and arts disciplines in ways that are often very different from how they perceived them in high school. They were provided with numerous opportunities to develop a community among peers and to connect to faculty, staff, and administration.

During welcome week, the provost and assistant dean of first-year programs hosted an orientation session for parents of first-generation students. At this session, parents received information about different facets of the college. First-generation students also were connected with peer mentors—upper-class students who served as front-line representatives for the first-generation program and worked closely with up to five first-year students. Peer mentors were responsible for meeting several times each semester with these students. Peer mentors represented Eureka College in a professional manner and served as role models by offering guidance and displaying positive behaviors for other students. Two formal dinners for first-year, first-generation students and their parents brought students together with successful first-generation alumni, faculty, staff, and administration. At the dinners, these and other members of the community discussed their own experience as first-generation students. Through the year, first-generation students also attended three cultural events: a symphony, a ballet, and a theater production. These events allowed conversations about the arts to continue through the year. The program sought to accomplish two main goals: to create multiple points of contact with first-generation students to ensure they became engaged and connected members of the college community; and to provide students and their parents with a clear understanding of the full range of opportunities that exist at and through Eureka College.

Program Outcomes

First-generation students made up 58 percent of the fall 2010 first-year cohort of 174 students, 38 of whom participated in the First-Generation Program (66 percent). Notably, program participants were retained from fall to fall at a rate of 76 percent compared with 53 percent for non-participating first-generation students.
For 2011–2012, fall to spring retention was 90 percent among participants compared with 68 percent among non-participants. The college retained program participants among first-generation students in the lower ACT range at higher rates than second-generation students.
Academic performance also improved, as 86 percent of participants were in good academic standing compared with 72 percent of the non-participants.
Further, the focus of the program on arts and humanities, with its cultural events, dinners, and role models, led to expanded social and cultural capital by participants.

Program Updates

A retired professor of history funded an additional year of the program so it could continue.